Psychology + Zen = Philosophy and methods to relieve suffering and reveal happiness.

Psychology:  We project onto others what we reject in ourselves.  Some call it a Shadow.  Healing comes from making the unconscious conscious, taking responsibility for our projections, integrating what is split off as our own thing. 

Zen:  There is no separate self.  When we can be at one with every aspect, then we belong everywhere and we reject no one.  

We heal the world by becoming intimate with our whole selves.   


Tuesday
Jan292019

You Be You

Last Sunday I gave a dharma talk* at the Village Zendo on the matter of becoming yourself. Like many Zen practices, it's an absurd and paradoxical goal. You already are who you really are, and yet things get complicated by the mind. 

The previous weekend we had a panel discussion with two Black Zen teachers who talked about how it is to be the only Black person in a community, how it is to deal with racist projections and expectations. James Lynch spoke of the importance of caring for yourself, not defining yourself by how others see you. And Malik Hokyu talked about confronting the objectifications that arise, how hard it is to locate their source. 

For the most part, Zen practice focuses on clearing away the delusion of a separate self, and there is no doubt that the more we sit the more we can drop our dependence on identity. But when we see each other, we see the marks of identity: skin color, gender expression, clothing or hairdo, disability if visible, body type and so on. Our minds are built to categorize and predict, so it is impossible to eliminate the expectations and judgement that shape the way we interact with each other. 

When you are a person who is marked as different from others, the usual process of forming an identity gets tangled; what gets reflected may not feel true. When I was growing up, moving from army base to army base, there were no other Russian disabled kids. I felt like a misfit, and so I struggled to imitate the customs in each place. Only in the woods by myself could I feel alive and genuinely connected. By high school I figured out how to construct an identity as a quirky drama girl that allowed me to behave in odd ways and still be popular. People saw in me what I wanted them to see. 

But this sort of thing initiates a split between who we feel ourselves to be and how we are perceived by others. and that split drives us to Zen, or psychotherapy, or destructive acting out. The bad news is that healing the split actually requires meeting the aspect of self that we try to cover. 

For me, that is weakness. My disabilities are serious but not visible. I've figured out how I can adapt movement so that I can dance, adapted my household so that I can eat (hint: don't bring me a jar unless you will open it for me), adapted my personality so that I see myself as a hero not a victim. But underneath there is still an aspect that is the toddler who can't walk, the kid who can't keep up, the adult who gets tangled up trying to get an item out of my pocket without a wrist to bend. And that aspect feels shameful because I have learned that it is better to cover it. 

Fortunately or unfortunately life always serves up what I reject. This year I've developed a quaver in my voice, something sticky in my throat or diaphragm. I believe it reads as fear, which is not ok at all, right? The more I try to control it the more prominent it gets. So the good news is that I have no choice but to embrace the fear, and fear of fear. I breathe, do what I do as I am, notice how people respond, sometimes say something about it, watch it come and go. 

It doesn't seem like good news when something comes up to challenge our identity. But actually taking down who we think we are or who others think we are, over and over again, is what makes us grow, and even to become fearless. That's the paradox. Rejecting nothing, including everything, that's how you can be who you really are. 

After I wrote this, I listened to an On Being podcast having to do with just this, exposing what we are taught to be ashamed about. So, for me it's whatever a vocal quaver indicates, but it could be anything. What would our culture look like if we all had the courage to out our true selves? 

*The Dharma talk has a slightly different focus, on the matter of being alone.

January 2019

 

 

 

Thursday
Dec132018

Kabillion Year-Old Rage and Female Sexuality

Photo by Jesse Jiryu DavisIn this Dharma talk, I looked into how to work with rage so that we can atone for it all, as we promise to do in our Zen Gatha of Atonement.

All evil karma ever committed by me since of old,
on account of my beginningless greed, anger, and ignorance,
born of my body, mouth, and thought,
Now I atone for it all....

It turned out that understanding how female sexuality worked provided a clue into how we can accept the unacceptable and disintegrate.  

November 2018

Friday
Nov022018

Rapunzel, 40 years later

Well, folks, here's a sloppy but fun little cut of my improvisation at the Barrow Group. I cut the nine minute piece to three and a half, taking liberties with speed and audio, but I think you'll get the jist.

Can Rapunzel break free of the patriarchy? 

For those of you wondering why I missed the summer Zen retreat, it was for this. :/ 

 

Thursday
Nov012018

Something about anger

I have to start somewhere. Next Thursday (November 8th), following the midterm elections, I'll give a talk on kabillion year-old rage, intense female sexuality, and love. Might as well start with something about anger.

Last month, following the Kavanaugh hearings, our Zen community met for council practice and someone told a story that featured million-year-old rage. That sparked a flame around the circle and so we burned, kabillion-year-old rage fueled by memories of abuse, oppression, shame, helplessness, terror. Even if we can't remember what happened 10,000 years ago, our bodies howl in response to today's injury.

A line from a koan: When the dragon howls, clouds moving over the caves grow dark.

Clouds respond. Humans respond. When I asked Roshi whether Trump is the howling dragon, she said he is the tail. How can we respond effectively to the war he is cultivating? 

It is said (on bumper stickers) that if you aren't outraged you aren't paying attention. Ok, but Kavanaugh was outraged too and now all the troops are out on both sides. This country is built on the idea that adversaries will arrive at truth. How's that working? The courts are wasting time proving technicalities instead of repairing, congress is a bloody mess with fangs and ruptured jugulars, and the populace is ever-ready to bend the truth to the victor.

Is it possible to live in peace with all this? Some would bypass it, live in some kind of dissociated equanimity, but I strive to include everything, including anger.

Buddhist advice on anger ranges from the fundamentalist--cease from anger, to the aspirational--be kind, think loving thoughts about your mother, to the psychological--hold the anger like a baby or inquire into it (see for example, Thich Nhat Hanh or Ezra Bayda). 

In my work as a psychologist and in my own life, I understand feelings as being comprised of sensation, thought, and action tendency.

Anger is felt differently by people depending on what they experienced--their own anger or anger they witnessed. My own is nearly indistinguishable from fear because I grew up with disabilities that prevented me from ever winning a fight. Many women experience a mix of anger, fear, or sadness, and almost everyone experiences tension when trying not to act out. Of all the feelings, anger has the strongest action tendency that is forbidden. Well, it used to be forbidden; now it is stoked by our president.

What to do!? 

When we sit in meditation, the urge to punish can fall away, leaving clarity and determination. Fear can rise and fall, informing effective protection. The flow of sadness can open our hearts, giving us inspiration and fortitude to have conversations with those who differ from us. And maybe tension can ease as we accept the variety of experience. And then we act. We respond.

Please don't check out. Take care of yourself and those you love, have some fun, eat some food, get some sleep, and then act. Donate to someone, help get out the vote, go to a march, have a good conversation with someone on the other side. Take heart in impermanence and the certainty that every breath, every thought, every glance, every word affects the outcome. 

Next up, emergent strategy and intense female sexual desire, a response to Musho's talk: "Intense male sexual desire." 

October 2018

 

Thursday
Sep272018

Goodbye Patriarchy, Hello Whatever

I'm writing on the morning of The Woman's testimony for the Kavanaugh hearings. Terrified for Dr. Blasey as she faces the "female assistant" who will torment her on behalf of the squad of Republican men, I am ready for the world as we know it to fall apart. 

My own patriarchal world has been disintegrating. At some point in adulthood I faced the inevitable disappointment: Daddy doesn't get me. I love him anyway, though, and wish him well. But as anyone who has been in therapy knows, knowing who your real father is doesn't eliminate the introject. Subtly I've been constructing myself for the male gaze all my life and checking myself in his mirror. Recently I broke up with a man on whom I placed all my longing to be seen and appreciated and loved. Naturally he couldn't do it. He was busy wanting all that from me, not to mention trying to help and teach me. The more he helped the weaker I felt. 

When I extricated myself I was shattered, grieving and terrified that no man would ever love me as I am, forgetting that love is available elsewhere. Weeks later I am on the solid ground of groundless experience, free to be a subject instead of an object. In Fountain of Oldth, I featured the stories of women who were freed by the invisibility of old age, but I guess I didn't want to be free yet, didn't want to be an outcast from the patriarchy, thought I could be a player. 

Women are losers in this game but we don't want to see it. Layers and layers of adaptation, like deformities, create new structures. A woman I work with told me her martyred mother was deeply passive aggressive. Is there any martyred woman who isn't? When we don't have direct power, we take it where we can. Pretty women are not aware of the power of beauty until it fades, and they ride that crest believing that things are available because of their merits. Old women, desperate to recover what they lost, carve up their faces or freeze them, but men still prefer the 35-year olds. Such is heterosexual normative life in the patriarchy. If you are a man reading this, please know that I do not blame you. I know that patriarchy has hobbled you too but this post is not for you. 

What happens if women themselves turn away from the centrality of men? Women can love women; many of us are fluid and can define beauty according to what actually exists. Women can run for office, not just vote for some old man who says the right things sometimes. We can stop trying to convince men to see us or hear us and just do what needs to be done.

What needs to be done? Please. Do whatever feels most important to you. Read Rebecca Traister on the rage of women and revolution. Listen to Gaelyn Roshi's excellent talk at the Zendo: speaking the truth is more important right now than trying to be polite about it. Question your conditioning. Question everything. It's a new world.

September 2018

 

Thursday
Aug022018

Fountain of Oldth: On Beauty and Age

Here is an extract of our PsychoZen Play, Fountain of Oldth. Older and younger women ponder beauty and confront a boast: "I have always been a great beauty." What happens when you say it? 

Last month, I sent the video to the cast of the show. You can enjoy their comments below, and add your own to help me continue editing and culling. 

July 2018

 

Sunday
Jul012018

How to atone for Trump, part one

Only recently have I experienced even a distant cousin of hope, but now I see that it has been accumulating somewhere in between my reactions to the awful foreground. 

First there was Rebecca Solnit who made the point, almost viral now, that the main ingredient for hope is uncertainty. Then there was a talk by a visiting teacher describing how nuns in a female monastery put their focus on their own ethical behavior instead of fighting the entrenched misogyny and oppression in the wider culture of Japan. Then Ryotan Sensei gave a penetrating talk on the precepts and drew attention to how we manifest right now, ethically, without knowing, without separating from any of the evil karma, taking responsibility for it all. And then I started to read Emergent Strategies, which applies complexity theory (in a very cheerful way!) to the movement.

It got me thinking about how, exactly, do we take responsibility for It All? At the VZ Open Mic recently, I decided to ask the question of the audience and got some great answers. I'm going to keep asking the question, and what I hear will be featured in my Dharma Talk on August 12th. For now, I'll sketch out the two categories of answers and invite you to comment. In the first were people who said that they can only work on their own karma, that including Trump would overwhelm them. In the second were people who took on the question of how their actions affect the whole, and each had a different way of expressing or understanding what they do. I found the entire conversation heartening and in keeping with my own brand of expression: getting people talking and playing with difficult dynamics. 

My understanding right now is that there is a potent if not visible connection between the work we do in our own sphere and what happens Out There, so whether you see it as your karma or their karma, it's the same work. Trump's angry and greedy policies must be stopped, but that is both not quite possible and also not enough. Yesterday I participated in the march to Keep Families Together in New York, and enjoyed the experience more than I usually do because I wasn't focussed on the apparent hopelessness of affecting the politicians but on the community I was with, the Buddhist Action Coalition. People were looking out for each other, offering suncreen, water, shade, encouragement, permission to leave if necessary, and the march leaders were modeling the same. Caring for each other strengthens the coalition that will rise up when capitalism crumbles or is brought down.

We also need to address 'othering' in our own communities--subtle misogyny and racism and ablism that play out in micro-interactions many times a day. I appreciate SURJ's intention to call in instead of call out. The person who speaks political incorrectivisms is one of us, even a Trumpite could be one of us one day. None of us knows enough about what goes on inside another group, so let's be curious and respectful. 

I gave an answer to my question, by the way. Atoning for family legacy, I read and embodied a poem by my mother on beauty and aging. 

Stay tuned, or chime in, but let's keep doing what we do and appreciate each other.

June 2018

Monday
Apr302018

Upside down mother

"All I want is for you to be happy."

As Mother's Day looms, let's honor the truth coming out of the convict's mouth. This blessing, worthy of a Zen master, delivers deep love, an impossible prescription, and a promise of self-annihilation. Reconcile it and freedom is yours.

A monk asked Yun Men: "When it is not the present intellect and it is not the present phenomena, what is it?" Yun Men replied: "An upside down statement," or the convict's truth, which pairs nicely with his answer in the previous story: "An appropriate statement."

Mama, I think that about covers it. Thank you for doing the right thing when you could. Thank you for trying and failing so I could see what was impossible. Thank you for trying and failing so I could see what was possible. Thank you for wanting what I could never achieve so that I could abandon all hope and enter The Way.

How could I be happy as a child, a disabled burden to displaced parents? How can I be happy as an adult living in a culture that offers poison as happiness potion? When greed is cultivated as virtue, when difference is punished or expelled, when violence excites us so much we can hardly hear the birds sing, how can we be happy?

Mama is just telling it as she learned it, says Jacqueline Rose, writing in Harper Mag. Mama is allowed and expected to be a tiger on behalf of her child but she may not express her own despair. "What the pain of mothers must not expose is a viciously unjust world in a complete mess."

Locked into a fiction, Mama provides an upside down statement.

As a daughter I long for the satisfaction that eluded my mother. As a mother I wish I could give what I never got. My heart breaks for my daughter as it breaks for all of us who thought never again meant something we could count on, who thought we were progressing. All I can offer now is participation. I participate in the tragedy, participate in the blooming trees and sunshine, participate in the enormous moon rising.

Sometimes I even participate in the damn patriarchy. 

And I am happy. 

April 2018

You can listen to the talk on Mother's Day that followed from this post here.

June 2018

 

 

 

Tuesday
Apr032018

Yanyang's Thing: Ode to Sangha

“Trust the process,” said my new romance, as everything converged.

The spectacular and ridiculous ritual known as Shuso Hossen became the focus that yanked my fragments together last month. Fear was a constant companion but the terror was wildest when I imagined Dharma Combat, the challenge to “Dragons and Elephants” in the Dharma Hall to confront me, to demand answers to potent life questions. Having watched a few of these, each time amazed at the deft handling of such deep inquiry, I was certain that I could never measure up.

Click to read more ...

Tuesday
Feb272018

What's the Rush? Not the Finale

Here's what's happening, but not yet.I would love to declare: Done with that and here is the answer, but I've discovered that it keeps going, the inquiry never ends. What is the rush?  Every answer has something to do with not meeting reality as it is.

In a rush to get somewhere, I am not satisfied with what's happening now. Now is a transition, but it is also complete in itself. I'm aiming to make the 10:19 train, but how am I doing that? I can aim by imagining missing the train and trying to hurry up. Then, anxiety builds and steals attention from pouring tea into my thermos. I drop the cover, wasting precious seconds and getting more tense. Or I can aim into the damn thermos and have a better chance of catching the train.

I have one of those minds where the boundaries between things are not so clear. Soon leaks into Now, and I become overwhelmed. But I really appreciate this mind and I'm not going to trade it in for one of those linear compartmentalizing versions, not that there is anything wrong with them! What I need to do is keep drawing my attention to the specific reality of this moment. Of course, meditation is great for that, and then when meditative awareness meets life as it is beautiful things happen.

I've spent this month designing an Urban Retreat for the Village Zendo. At its conclusion, I get to give my first Dharma Talk and engage in Dharma Combat, which is really just a conversation (oh, please let it be a conversation!). If I survive the battle--no no, the conversation--I become a senior student. It means a lot, and nothing at all.